“Having self-respect does not mean you never make a wrong decision.”

Some people slur commentary at others for their decisions in gossip conversations with the phrases “well, she must have zero respect for herself to sleep with him” or “he lost all respect for himself when he did that.” Sure, when someone acts in a way that isn’t what we’d define in the frame of valor, we blame respect. That’s easy. Respect is tossed around like a ball in numerous games of catch, and we are singing “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.” People seem to think that having self-respect means that you never make a decision that could potentially bruise your moral character. In the scope of rationality, people who respect themselves always choose right. That one little mess up must mean I don’t value myself or that I’ve given up on upholding my self-worth, right? But just like those comments, it’s a massive jump to the conclusion.

I read Joan Didion’s essay “On Self-Respect” when I was 18, and I promise you I had very little clue what in the world she was talking about. I reread it this evening and after questioning my freshman chicken-scratch notes in the margins and laughing at my immature notions, I found myself beginning (key word, beginning) to understand just what that marvelous woman meant. She says, regarding people with self-respect, “They are willing to invest something of themselves; they may not play at all, but when they do play, they know the odds.”

I don’t think having self-respect means you never make a wrong decision. It’s knowing exactly what you are getting yourself into and making a conscious choice. And even if you don’t know the outcome and are acting purely on impulse, it’s being able to lie in the bed you’ve made for yourself, and beyond that, being able to make it and move forward. Self-respect, in my opinion, is not something that can be stripped from someone in one motion, but even more than that, it’s not something that can be entirely lost and not regained. It’s like making a sculpture out of clay. You start solid and carve away the sections you don’t need, but then adding those same fragments back in to help you take shape.

So maybe you went home with him. Okay. Don’t let others tell you that you’ve lost something that wasn’t theirs to take. As Didion says, “self-respect is a discipline, a habit of the mind that can never be faked but can be developed, trained, coaxed forth.” Self-respect does not mean you make all the right decisions. It is never finished. It is practiced, built, and controlled. So stop telling yourself that you’re not worthy. You’re not careless. You are working through your mindfulness. You are understanding your value.

Having self-respect does not alienate you from others, either. It is not a ticket to the top of the mighty hill. The inflation of one’s ego does not equal their amount of self-respect. Therefore, do not think that you are pretentious, cocky, or a bitch for knowing your worth. Those who use their “self-respect” as an excuse are the ones that do not truly have it at all. So understand that you are not entitled because you respect yourself, but also, don’t diminish your character because of how you think you’ll be viewed for you conviction. Respect other people, respect yourself.

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